Neck pain is one of the most common reasons patients come to see us. It’s often a temporary pain that can be resolved with minimally invasive treatment. However, there are cases where the pain is chronic and is the result of a degenerative condition like osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, or cervical disc herniation.
Those over 50 years old are most likely to experience degenerative diseases. Sufferers of cervical disc herniation can be as young as 40 though. While chronic neck pain can be isolating, there are treatments available to help.
The most common form of arthritis is osteoarthritis. More than 32.5 million U.S. adults live with it. Generally known as degenerative joint disease or “wear and tear” arthritis, it occurs when the cartilage within a joint begins to break down and the underlying bone begins to change. Osteoarthritis most frequently occurs in the hands, hips, and knees.
There’s no cure for osteoarthritis, but there are treatment options available. Medication, assistive devices, and other therapies can help to ease the pain. When all other treatments have been exhausted, a damaged joint may be surgically fused or replaced with a synthetic one.
Medication: Pain and anti-inflammatory medicines for osteoarthritis are available as pills, syrups, patches, gels, creams or injectables. They include:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Platelet-rich plasma (PRP)
Physical therapy and/or exercise: Movement is an essential part of an osteoarthritis treatment plan. Getting 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise per week should be the goal, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Your program should include: strengthening exercises, stretching, cardio, and balance exercises.
Weight loss: Excess weight puts additional force and stress on weight-bearing joints and fat cells promote inflammation. Every pound of weight lost removes four pounds of pressure on joints in your lower body.
Surgery: Joint replacement surgery can restore mobility and relieve pain. Hips and knees are the joints most commonly replaced. An orthopedic surgeon can determine the best procedure based on how badly damaged the joint is.
2) Rheumatoid Arthritis
An autoimmune disease, rheumatoid arthritis causes joint inflammation and pain and affects more than 1.5 million people in the United States. It happens when the immune system attacks the lining of the joints, which is called the synovium.
For unknown reasons, more women than men get rheumatoid arthritis, and it typically develops in middle age. Like osteoarthritis, there is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, but it can be managed.
Treatment options for rheumatoid arthritis include lifestyle changes, therapies, medicine, and surgery. The approach will vary by your age, health, medical history, and symptom severity.
Medication: Early treatment with certain drugs can improve the long-term outcome. Moreover, combinations of drugs may be more effective than single-drug therapy. Medications that treat rheumatoid arthritis include:
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- COX-2 inhibitors
- Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs)
- Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitors
Rest: When your joints are inflamed, the risk of injury to them is high, which makes rest important.
Exercise: Maintaining a good range of motion in your joints and good fitness overall are critical. You might want to start by seeing a physical or occupational therapist for advice about how to exercise safely.
Diet and weight loss: While not a cure, diet changes may help reduce rheumatoid arthritis inflammation and symptoms. Before starting any type of herbal or nutritional supplement consult your doctor.
Weight loss could also help to reduce stress on inflamed joints. People with rheumatoid arthritis have a higher risk of coronary artery disease. High blood cholesterol, a coronary artery disease risk factor, can be lowered with diet changes.
Surgery: Severely damaged joints may require joint replacement to restore function. Surgery could also be recommended if your pain isn’t managed with medication.
3) Cervical Disc Herniation
Typically caused by the deterioration of the material between the discs in your spine, cervical disc herniation is characterized by a bulge or rupture of that material into the spinal canal. That puts pressure on nerves that lead to pain in the neck and arm or hand. It can also cause numbness or tingling in the arm or hand.
Medications: For mild to moderate pain, your doctor might recommend over-the-counter drugs, but there are options for more serious pain.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Neuropathic drugs
- Muscle relaxers.
- Cortisone injections.
Physical therapy and exercise: A physical therapist can show you positions and exercises designed to minimize the pain of a herniated disk.
Surgery: Few people with herniated disks require surgery. Your doctor might suggest it, however, if non-invasive treatments fail to improve. Surgical options to alleviate the pain caused by a herniated cervical disc could include the removal of the herniated portion or a diskectomy. In rare cases, the vertebrae might need to be fused with a bone graft or implantation of an artificial disk.
We Can Help with Your Chronic Neck Pain
You don’t have to live with chronic neck pain. At Beacon, we’ll work with your team of doctors and rheumatologists to create a treatment plan for you. It’s important to know that joint damage generally occurs within the first two years of diagnosis, so it’s important to see your provider as soon as you notice symptoms to help prevent long-term consequences. Our experienced and compassionate back and neck specialists at Beacon can help. Schedule an online appointment today.